Maybe there was no honorable way for Temple to transition from the Fran Dunphy era to the Aaron McKie era.
If there was a way, Temple didn’t find it. It’s reasonable to wonder if the school even tried.
Wednesday, the school officially announced the transition. No press conference, no cameras, no balloons. The awkwardness of the whole deal would have been on full display.
To be clear, there are no lifetime contracts for coaches in college basketball. At a place such as Temple, if you’re paying seven figures a year for a coach, the expectations are to get to the NCAA tournament more often than not. Those are fair expectations. If Temple fans demanded change, they got it.
But why, for instance, did the news about Dunphy’s staying one more year before being replaced by McKie leak out as the sport gathered in San Antonio for the Final Four? What was the rush? I don’t have that answer. The only theory that makes any sense is that Temple administrators were feeling pressured to show they were doing something, so they did. If Villanova was capturing all the hoops spotlight at the time, all the better.
If they also hung their basketball coach of a dozen years out to dry, so be it. Dunphy was spotted walking in a Division I coaches’ meeting right after the news broke the Friday of Final Four weekend. He showed up at the games the next day. He kept going. That must have been fun.
Call this personal bias: You can’t have a more first-class coach. I don’t mean just in terms of being a “nice” guy. That isn’t the right description. I’ve covered college sports in this city for a quarter-century and have yet to meet a person with more integrity. I covered Dunphy’s Allen-Maloney Penn teams in the 1990s and saw what he was about firsthand. I’d have hired him anywhere, any time for any program and lived with the consequences.
Another thing: Dunphy did not take a program on a high and run it down. Don’t believe that malarkey. In John Chaney’s last five seasons, the Owls didn’t make the NCAAs. After missing out his first season, Dunphy made it six straight years. Yes, not making the second weekend of the tournament is a substantial hole in his resume. Yes, Chaney had more success. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame, those five Elite Eight appearances.
The idea of some Temple fans that Dunphy wasn’t fiery enough — can’t agree there. Behind the scenes, he could be as fiery as Chaney, even as crazy in terms of his demands. But all that doesn’t matter now. Temple’s basketball program has reached the NCAA tournament only once in the last five years. Temple fans are allowed to expect more. If fewer of them were showing up at the Liacouras Center, that’s an issue, too.
Owls fans should not expect that McKie will be a better technical basketball coach than Dunphy on Day 1. That’s too much to ask of the next man. What kind of head coach will McKie be? Even he can’t know that right now. The hire was interesting because if Dunphy was not getting it done lately in the minds of his bosses, McKie has never worked as a college assistant under anybody but Dunphy. The fan base did not demand this part of the deal.
However, this is important: McKie shares the honorable traits of the man he will succeed. He’s someone you can root for. He’s also been treated shabbily in his own coaching career. (Talking about you, Sixers.) He’s always risen above.
A couple of years ago, I wondered about how Dunphy and McKie got along, not being able to read it from the outside. I checked in with someone who knew McKie pretty well, who insisted to me that privately, McKie did nothing but talk highly and generously of Dunphy. There was no backstabbing behind the scenes. Others have backed that up with examples. McKie is the real deal.
If you want to argue that Dunphy forced Temple’s hand because he wouldn’t retire with three years left on his contract, the obvious rebuttal is that Temple gave him that extension. That’s entirely on the school. He wasn’t going anywhere else when they extended him. If they couldn’t pay it all out in the end, that’s on them.
A year from now, McKie will need to hit the ground running. Yes, he’ll need to upgrade results to satisfy the fan base. McKie will need great recruiters alongside him. He also could use a seasoned hand. Dunphy will no longer be on Temple’s bench. Pro tip: McKie should look for someone just like him.